The nice thing about reading a book prior to seeing a subsequent cinematic adaption is that you can go in fresh, with no notions or expectations. So when I picked up a copy of Robin Moore’s The French Connection, published in 1969 and later adapted into a hit movie starring Gene Hackman, I only had a vague idea of what to expect. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I had a vague idea that it would be an action-packed story with lots of chases and maybe shootouts. Also, I was pretty sure it took place in France.
Turns out I was wrong on a few counts.
For one – and I trust I’m not spoiling this for anyone – the book actually takes place in New York City. It details the investigation of and subsequent arrests of a group of shady characters involved in the heroin trade. The thing is, it’s a lot less exciting to read than it probably was to participate in. Moore’s tome, built almost entirely from a number of sources (police reports, criminal diaries, court transcripts, etc.), is heavy on facts to be sure. I came away from reading the book with an appreciation of just how mundane and frustrating the work of an undercover narcotics detective can really be.
Moore offers a perfunctory look at the story’s two main protagonists – New York City narcotics detectives Eddie Egan and Sonny Grosso – but seemingly more as an obligation than an attempt to really humanize them. With that out of the way, the painstaking detail of Egan and Grosso’s months-long investigation is laid out over the course of a few hundred pages. There’s a lot of waiting, watching, and sleepless nights peppered by the occasional car chase. Only as the investigation draws to a conclusion does the action pick up, but even then it’s a lot more routine than those raised on modern TV and film crime dramas would expect.
Aficionados of true crime stories will enjoy The French Connection, as it is rich in facts and details concerning the international heroin trade of the late ’60s (with some sweet Mafia action thrown in for good measure). But those looking for action will probably be disappointed. I don’t pin that on Moore, as it is a well-written book, but that’s my take on his work. Now I need to see the movie and compare.